Chapter 1:
Jeffersonian America
Chapter 2:
The War of 1812
Chapter 3:
Chapter 4:
Revolution in Industry
Chapter 5:
The Peculiar Institution
Chapter 6:
Antebellum South
Chapter 7:
The Civil War
Chapter 8:
Chapter 9:
The Pursuit of Perfection
Chapter 10:
The West
Chapter 11:

The War of 1812

Primary Author: Sharilyn Clark
The primary author is the individual who drafted the first version of this section; a section that could have been modified since it was originally published.

Causes of the War of 1812

Trade agreements were one of the main causes of the War of 1812. In 1803 Great Britain declared war on France beginning the Napoleonic Wars. During this time, the young United States attempted to remain neutral. The desire was to continue neutral trading with both Great Britain and France however, in 1806 and 1907, both countries banned neutral trade and continuously interfered in American trade. In 1807 Congress passed an embargo that prohibited trade with France and Great Britain but the embargo ended up harming the United States more than the European countries and in 1810 the United States resumed Trade with both European countries.

When trade resumed in 1810 the British Navy continued a practice of impressment of American sailors. The British Navy would board American vessels, both commercial and military, to search for British deserters. In some cases the men they captured were in fact British deserters however, this practice led to the British also capturing men they merely deemed British and impressing them into service with the Royal Navy. One example of impressment took place in 1807 when the British "H.M.S. Leopard" bombarded and forcibly boarded the American U.S.S. Chesapeake. The British took four men but only one was a British deserter. It is estimated that the British captured approximately 6,000 Americans who then were forced to fight in a war for a country that was not their own. The British refused to change their impressment practices or offer any compensation for the Chesapeake incident and in 1812, President Madison requested Congress for a declaration of war against Great Britain.

Trade agreements and the issue of impressment were only two of the reasons the United States went to war in 1812. There were many people who looked at the war as a way to further western expansion of the United States, control the Indians and push the British out of North America completely by controlling the British North American colony that is today's Canada.

Important Events of the War of 1812

Why is the War of 1812 so important? The United States didn't accomplish any of the goals it set out to accomplish upon the declaration of war so why should we care so much about the war? Many events of the War of 1812 still impact us today. In this war, we see the emergence of the United States Navy as a real military power, Washington D.C. burns, historical artifacts are rescued and we see the first appearance of "Uncle Sam" and the national anthem is written.

In 1812 the British Royal Navy had over six hundred ships while the American Navy had only sixteen. The United States hastily began building ships when war was declared and would also use British ships that they had conquered in battle. The United States suffered terrible setbacks during land attacks but the young Navy proved itself through several encouraging victories on the water.

As Americans we tend to believe that Washington D.C. is impenetrable. We forget (or didn't know in the first place) that the capitol was attacked during the War of 1812 and some prominent buildings were destroyed. Both the capitol building and the White House were set ablaze by the British. The Navy Yard was also destroyed however, not by the British but was done by Captain Thomas Tingey, the Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard. He did not do this to be destructive but was following standing orders the Secretary of the Navy that the Navy Yard was to never fall under the control of the British.

The inhabitants of Washington D.C. had little time to prepare for the British invasion. President Madison's wife, Dolley, was expecting forty people for dinner that evening but had to leave in such a hurry that when the British arrived, they were able to eat the meal that had been prepared for Dolley's guests. While Dolley Madison left in a great rush, she still had time to save many of our historical artifacts including a famous painting of George Washington that hung in the White House.

The War of 1812 also saw the first appearance of "Uncle Sam." Cargo for the United States Army would be stamped "U.S." and shipped. In 1813, a broadside, apparently published in New York, contained two references to Uncle Sam and the U.S. government. At first, "Uncle Sam" was a term used in the Army but has since overflowed to the general public. The cartoon image of "Uncle Sam" that we know today didn't appear until the 1870's when he was depicted by artist Thomas Nast who is also the creator of the modern image of Santa Claus.

The National Anthem

Did you know that the Star Spangled Banner was written as a poem? Or that the tune is set to an old English drinking song? Or that our national anthem has four verses? Or that it wasn't, officially, the National Anthem until 1931? How often do we hear the strains of our national anthem? The Olympics, sporting events, graduations; the list is almost endless. But few people truly know the origins of this beautiful song. In September of 1814 a man, by the name of Dr. William Beanes, was taken prisoner by General Robert Ross of the British Army. John Skinner and Francis Scott Key embarked on a mission to see him freed. Under a flag of truce, the two men were allowed to board the "Surprise" where the British were holding Dr. Beanes. While the two men were successful in their mission and Dr. Beanes was freed and the charges dropped, the British detained the men. The British knew that the men had learned of their plan to attack Fort McHenry in Baltimore Maryland and were afraid that, if released, they would inform the fort of the plan to attack.

The men were moved to the "Tonnant" for the duration of the attack of Fort McHenry. For twenty-five hours they watched as the British Navy bombarded the fort. Their eyes searched the sky for a glimpse of the unusually large American flag that flew above the fort. Finally, in the early hours of 14 September 1814, Francis Scott Key saw that the Star Spangled Banner still flew above Fort McHenry. The sight so inspired him that he wrote a poem entitled, "The Defense of Fort McHenry". The poem was published as a broadside and later set to the tune of "Anacreon in Heaven". It wasn't until 1931 that Congress officially named "The Star Spangled Banner" as the National Anthem of the United States of America.

The Aftermath of the War of 1812

There are conflicting conclusions as to who won the War of 1812. All things considered, it is almost considered a "draw". On 24 December 1814 the Treaty of Ghent was drafted. It would go into effect when both the United States and Great Britain signed it. The treaty not only ended the hostilities but also stipulated that all territory would be returned to the country that owned it prior to the war and required that each side make peace with the Indians.

For Americans however, the war was not a total loss. American's forgot that we didn't accomplish any of the goals that we set out to accomplish but we gained national pride, proved our ability to stand up for what is right and gained a new generation of American heroes. This was just the beginning of what we gained from the War of 1812. This war instilled patriotism in the form of the Great Garrison Flag at Fort McHenry and in the poem that would one day become our national anthem.

Works Consulted

James Madison's Proclamation of War, 18 June 1812.